by STIRworldOct 22, 2020
EUROPARC, a pan-European design collective, has won the competition to renew the Paul-Henri SPAAK Building in Brussels, Belgium. The international competition, organised by the European Parliament, invited architects to envision a renewed parliament building where the intervention may vary from renovation to reconstruction of the building. The main building of the European Parliament's Brussels site, the Paul-Henri SPAAK Building is part of an estate of around 10 buildings with a total area of approximately 665,000 sqm. Through the competition objectives, the European Parliament aimed for a design which could be—an architectural identity, an urban link integrating the city and landscape, a cultural hub that engages its citizens into a dialogue, a flexible and adaptive space and lastly, a positive example of a sustainable and regenerative building. Addressing this vision, EUROPARC—a design collective made up of five architectural studios from five European countries: JDSA / Julien De Smedt Architects (Denmark), Coldefy (France), NL Architects (The Netherlands), CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati (Italy), and Ensamble Studio (Spain), with support of engineering companies UTIL (Belgium) and Ramboll (Denmark)— proposed a building that underscores the identity of the European Union (EU) and the value of democracy, while promoting principles of circular construction.
Addressing the competition committees' inquiry into identifying the right approach towards renewing the building, EUROPARC proposed renovation through partial demolition and insertion of new architectural elements. The five interventions emphasised in the design approach were—reusing the SPAAK building, a new permeable ground floor, a new and performing envelope, the main chamber, and a green and public ‘agora'. Talking about their proposal, EUROPARC states, “With a war on the doorstep of Europe, and an ensuing energy crisis ever more pressing, the challenges faced by the European Union are shared by us all. As a team of Pan-European offices composed of more than 30 nationalities, we understand and feel the impact of these difficulties directly. Our collective proposal to rethink the parliament building in a way that minimises environmental impact, while expanding its openness and civic inclusion as embodiments of the values of European democracy are therefore evermore relevant.”
Considering the carbon footprint generated in the construction sector, especially when a new building is constructed, EUROPARC proposed to reuse most of the SPAAK's structure. The design strategy, while retaining much of the existing structure, aims to improve the Parliament's working conditions and catalyse potential for communication and exchange with European citizens. Along the lines of the competition’s objective for noting urban integration and links, the proposal intends to strengthen the linkage between the building and the city. To enhance the pedestrian flow and SPAAK's connectivity with Place du Luxembourg and Parc Léopold, the block has been opened up, creating a public realm that expands to the indoors, as well. “The building should not be impenetrable, but should be a place of openness,” says EUROPARC about their approach of connecting new architecture to the city.
Meeting the spatial requirements for a modernised chamber, the Hemicycle—a new assembly chamber of the European Parliament–will be repositioned on the upper levels. Widening the democratic platform, the new chamber will have digital amenities. Additionally, the proposal also aims to establish a visual dialogue between the Parliament, the rooftop garden, and the city through its large windows. EUROPARC further mentions, “One of these large windows can also become a screen to transmit information in real-time during assemblies.”
A unique element of the proposal that bridges most of these renewal needs is the Green Agora. Situated on the highest floor, this— botanical garden designed to be a place for gathering and inspired by the Agora of ancient Greece—becomes a culmination of the architectural journey. “Not only visually connected to the Hemicycle through the latter’s open ceiling, the Green Agora will also serve as the beacon of European democracy, where citizens and the Members of the European Parliament meet and exchange thoughts. In addition, the spirit of pan-European synergy is reinforced in natural terms, as the park brings together vegetation indigenous to all the member states to form a multifaceted European ecosystem,” adds EUROPARC.
With the permeable ground floor, the Hemicycle, the Green Agora, and the performing envelope, the proposal aims to create a civic environment that is approachable, and connects the citizens to the democratic process of Europe. Along with the renewal of the SPAAK building, the proposed design by EUROPARC also presents an architectural intervention that connects the public and the city, to its political sphere. The parliament building while being a place of civic and social values also becomes an area for ideas and cultural exchange.
While EUROPARC’s proposal won the international competition, many other noteworthy architects also participated with their proposals. The architectural design by Jabornegg & Pálffy Generalplaner ZT GmbH (Austria), Kuehn Malvezzi (Germany), and AXIS Ingenieurleistungen ZT GmbH (Austria) with its three vertically articulated volumes encompassing sculptural chambers won the second prize. With a unique play of geometric volumes, MOREAU KUSUNOKI (France) and Dethier Architectures (Belgium) won third place. Other architecture practices that were a part of the competition were Belvedere Architecture (France) with Ove Arup & Partners International Ltd (United Kingdom), A2M (Belgium) with VK ENGINEERING (Belgium) and C.F. Møller Architects (Denmark), Renzo Piano Building Workshop (France), Shigeru Ban Architects (Japan), and Snøhetta Oslo AS (Norway), to name a few.